Wooden Shoe Talking Changes in Tough Times

By James Generic

The Wooden Shoe Books collective has been engaged in discussions about restructuring and revamping our organization. We are talking about restructuring the Wooden Shoe from being an all-volunteer, one-tier collective to being a two-tier workers collective with paid collective members and volunteers (along the model of Baltimore's Red Emma's).

The only way we could do this would be to expand from being just a bookstore into being something bigger, such as a cafe/bookstore. That's not really possible in the place we currently are; over the years, it's become abundantly clear that any reforms, tweaks, attempts at changing the culture, anti-oppression trainings, discussions on the culture or even large-scale business changes become quite impossible as a 50-person collective with decent turnover.

By six months to a year later, turnover undoes any of those changes. If we're really lucky, changes sometimes last longer, but overall, it's very frustrating for long-term members of the collective to have to reinvent the wheel constantly because of the high turnover; not being clear on who is committed and who is not; and not being able to choose who makes up the decision-making group. In the end, it all comes back to structure.

The planning committee has met five times. First, we brainstormed what the new structure would look like and came up with some ideas. Then we sat down with members of Red Emma's and picked their brains for about an hour and a half for details of how their program operates. Red Emma’s has a fascinating model that keeps them from spending more on wages than they make.

At Wooden Shoe, we now have nine people on the planning committee, up from the original six that first came together. Collective members keep asking how to get involved with this process, so I'm pretty sure it's going forward. It's exciting, although we know there is a lot of work ahead.

Our next steps are to come up with a detailed and well thought-out business plan/manifesta/constitution/bylaws (whatever you want to call it), have a retreat in February, and try to get a consensus on it. After that, it would be pedal to the metal to find a new space and get it set up before September 2009.

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